Arts · Culture and Languages · History · Travel

Vienna: Days 2 and 3

While the Schönbrunn Palace (which I visited and wrote about on Tuesday) was the Hapsburg’s summer residence, the Hofburg was the imperial winter residence. Situated in the centre of Vienna, and not too far from our hotel, it was here that we set off to on Wednesday morning. Our visit to the Hofburg comprised of three main attractions: the Silver Collection (Silberkammer), the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Apartments (Kaiserappartments). 

We entered through a large arch, that led to a dome shaped room with an ornate ceiling. From here, we arrived at the Silver Collection, which was the first of the three places that we explored. The Silver Collection contained extensive cases packed with different silver and gold objects, as well as ceramics and items made out of glass. The objects were all domestic and largely consisted of cutlery, crockery and tablewear. This vast collection dates back to the 15th century; the title of Silver Chamberlain was first recorded at the court of Emperors Frederick III and Maximilian I. However, whilst the collection was an undoubtedly interesting insight into the court culture that the Hapsburg’s enjoyed, to me the Silver Collection was not the most enthralling bit of the museum – it began to seem a bit repetitive after the first seven or eight rooms and, to be honest, a lot of the crockery was not too dissimilar to that which my grandma has on display in her living room.

Following on from the Silver Collection was the Sisi Museum, which was very interesting, especially as Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) is not a figure that I had previously known anything about. Elisabeth, who was married to her cousin Franz Joseph, was the Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary between 1854 and 1898, when she was assassinated in Geneva aged 60. Through exploring the rooms of the museum, and listening to the commentary on the audio guide, I learnt a lot about the longest serving empress of Austria, who was noted for being both deeply beautiful and deeply unhappy, and desperate to be out of the scrutinising constraint of the public eye. The display contained many person items of the Empress, including fans, parasols and a couple of dresses.

From the Sisi Museum we entered the Imperial Apartments. As the Hofburg was the home of the Hapsburg’s for over 600 years, the palace was made up of numerous apartments belonging to different people. The apartments that we were able to explore were those belonging to Elisabeth and Frank Joseph, who we had just learnt about in the previous museum. Most of the furniture and designs can be dated to the 19th century, although there were some older pieces. Similarly to the Schönbrunn, there were many beautiful chandeliers in these rooms, as well as seemingly hundreds of decadent mirrors, which provided innumerable photo opportunities! After we had finished navigating through the many different rooms, we headed to the restaurant for lunch, before admiring the gardens.

After a short break spent back in the hotel, we walked to the Mozart Museum, Mozart Haus. The museum was quite small, although it was spread over three stories, and was set in an apartment that Mozart had rented for a number of years. Mozart himself was actually from Salzburg, thus the main collection of his things is not situated in Vienna. However, despite the small size of the museum, it was still very interesting and an enjoyable experience, particularly as the audio guide had masses of information. We stayed in the Mozart Museum for just over an hour, before heading to a nearby restaurant for dinner, for which I had a delicious couscous.

After dinner, we returned to the hotel to get ready, before rushing out to a concert at a 19th century music hall called the Kursalon.  Here we listened to an orchestra play a number of pieces that were mainly composed by Mozart and Strauss. The performances included orchestral music, opera and even some dance. There were many famous pieces, for example from The Magic Flute and Einer Kleiner Nachtmusik. In addition, the venue itself was absolutely beautiful. The only negative – or rather hilarity – was that the woman sitting behind me decided that it was okay to sing along to the piano music! The concert finished at about half ten, at which point we returned to our hotel for the night.

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On Thursday, we woke up relatively late in comparison to the early starts on the previous days. Once we were all ready, we set off to the main attraction of the day: Belvedere Palace. Whilst Belvedere compromises of several buildings, situated within the amazing gardens, it was the Upper Belvedere that we chose to explore. The building itself is a magnificent baroque palace, dating back to the early 1700s, and was the summer residence of Prince Eugine. We paused to admire the building’s exterior, as well as the garden – although we soon found out that the best view of the this came from the upstairs windows.

The inside of the Upper Belvedere consists of a fantastic art gallery, housing many famous works. This included the largest collection of Gustav Klimt’s artwork, including the world famous ‘The Kiss’ and ‘Judith’. We saw these paintings, as well as many others, on the first floor of the gallery, which was the main collection of modern art. The first floor also consisted of a number of beautiful rooms that were decorated and designed in much the same style as the other two palaces that we had visited: high white walls and ceilings, adorned with sparkling gold embellishments and vast in every mirrors. After we had finished admiring the artwork and interior of the first floor, we went to the restaurant for lunch, where I had yet another salad due to an impressive inability to eat literally anything else.

After lunch, we headed back into the Upper Belvedere, this time to explore the second floor. Whilst the first floor was dedicated to modern art, this floor was packed with impressionism and realism. The art was not limited solely to Austria artists, as there was pieces by Money, Renoir and Van Gogh as well. My favourite piece was a beautiful garden scene by Monet, who is probably my favourite artist. Also visable from the second floor were the amazing panoramic views of the garden, seen through the vast windows that created the bright, airy light in the gallery. Some of the windows had large windowsills attached to them and would certainly have provided some enviable window seats back when the Belvedere was a palace!

After spending the majority of the day at the Belvedere, we took a taxi back to our hotel for a short rest and to get out of the intense heat. In the evening we headed out for our final dinner in Vienna, which we had in a restaurant a few streets away from Stephanplatz, which is the main square where we have been eating at most nights. For dinner I had plain spaghetti once again, whilst my sisters had pasta, my mum had gnocchi and my dad had a pizza. After dinner, we went to a different restaurant (this time in Stephanplatz) and my parents and sister had dessert.

After dinner and desert, at around 9pm, we headed back to the hotel, full of pasta, strudel and excitement for the day ahead.

To read about my arrival and first full day in Vienna click here

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Arts · Travel

Old Friends are NOT Best Left in the Past: Three Days in Liverpool 

I am writing this post whilst on the train back home from Liverpool, where I have spent the last three days visiting my friend Evie. Having been friends since we were nine years old, Evie is my longest friend and yet still someone who I continue to consider to be one of my very best friends. As she lives in New Zealand, this is only the second time in the last six years that I have seen her, hence the amazing three days were all the more meaningful, as I do not know when I will next get to see Evie, except through the pixelated screen of a poorly connecting Skype call.

I arrived at Liverpool Lime Street Station at around half past two on Thursday afternoon, where Evie met me on the platform. As Evie’s grandma (whose house we were staying at) lives slightly outside of Liverpool, we decided to remain in the city for the rest of the afternoon. Because it was lunch time, and a nice day, we walked to this small outdoor fair place – Evie was unsure if it was permanent or not – where we sat for a bit and ate some delicious halloumi fries. After lunch, we wandered across the water by the docks and arrived at the Tate Liverpool, where we stayed for an hour or so to look at several displays. One piece of modern art that stood out in particular was a sign (similar to that of a board in a train station) in which random thoughts, perhaps belonging to the artist, were circling; Evie and I were fixated and must have watched it for about ten minutes. The first thought we saw however, read “Old friends are best left in the past” – something which Evie and I certainly did not agree with!

After exploring the Tate Liverpool, Evie and I went to Liverpool One shopping centre, where we looked round the shops and in Evie’s case bought a number of things. Finally, when we were done looking at all the shops that New Zealand seems to be massively lacking in, we got on the train to The Wirral where Evie’s grandma lives. Evie’s sister Isabelle (who I haven’t seen since she was eleven) and her cousin Ellie (who I’ve only met once, years ago, when she visited Bahrain) drove us home from the station and I saw Evie’s family for the first time in over half a decade, as only Evie had visited me last year. We had dinner and dessert and lots of sweets and then the four of us – Evie, Issy, Ellie and I – watched Love Island. After that, Isabelle and Ellie went to Ellie’s house, while Evie and I made the regretful decision to watch a super traumatic psychological thriller called Pet until we were almost too disturbed to go to sleep.

The next day we woke up at about 8:30 am, got ready and had breakfast. Then, at around eleven o’clock, Evie’s mum drove us to the station, where we got on the train to Chester, which is a town also quite close to Liverpool. Chester was a really pretty and historic town, with lots of old buildings along the high street. True to what we do best together, we spent another day shopping both in Chester and then later in Liverpool again. Less was bought on Friday than Thursday though, as a long period of time in Chester was spent in a shoe shop where Evie could only find one boot of a pair of boots that she liked! As well as shopping, we also had lunch in Chester: I had a lovely mushroom and cheese toastie.

After our rather late lunch, we got the train from Chester back into central Liverpool. In Liverpool we met up with Ellie and Issy and went to a café on Bold Street called ‘Love Thy Neighbour’. This has got to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing cafés that I have ever been in; I seem to remember having seen it before on a blog or Instagrammers’ feed! Following this, we looked in a number of independent vintage shops on Bold Street, with Ellie showing us where to go, as she actually lives in Liverpool. After a while, Ellie and Isabelle went back home, whilst Evie and I looked in a few more shops before following suit. Back at Evie’s grandma’s house, Evie and I had our dinner of surprisingly very tasty vegetarian sausage rolls, and then Ellie and Isabelle arrived right in time for Love Island again. After Love Island, the four of us squeezed into one double bed, where we started watching a film called Mothers’ Day. We did not finish it however, as Evie’s laptop ran out of charge, and as we were all tired we decided to go straight to sleep.

Despite plans to wake up very early this morning, Evie and I finally made it downstairs at close to eleven a.m.. As my train was at quarter to three, we decided to head straight into Liverpool and explore the tourist attractions near the station. Thankfully, this area actually seemed to hold the majority of museums and galleries. We chose to go to the an art gallery – called The Walker Gallery – that had many paintings and sculptures, as well as a craft exhibition. We were also pleasantly surprised to find a number of pieces by famous and well known artists, such as Lowry’s paintings of Liverpool itself. Once we had finished at this gallery, we attempted to go to a second gallery, but it turned out to be quite expensive so, instead, we decided to go to Radio City in St John’s Beacon, from which we got an amazing view of the whole of Liverpool.

From the top of the viewing platform, we identified a square that we thought would have nice places to eat, and this is where we set off to to find some lunch. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case, however we found another nice cafe on Bold Street called ‘Koop’, which had a similar kind of vibe to an American diner. Evie was not hungry so only had a coffee but, as this was my only opportunity to have lunch before my journey home, I ordered a peanut butter, chocolate sauce and banana waffle. When it came, both Evie and I were shocked at the size – the waffle was enormous and served with a mountain of cream and a second mountain of ice cream! Evie and I ended up sharing the waffle in the end, as there was no way that one person could have eaten it on their own. We finished lunch in perfect timing, at around quarter past two, and then walked the short walk back to the train station, arriving in good time before my train departed.

Overall, I had an amazing three days, experiencing a new city, visiting a number of interesting galleries and tourist hotspots and, of course, spending time with one of my best friends. So, that art instillation was indeed incorrect after all: old friends are certainly not best left in the past.

Arts · History · London

My London Bucket List

At the beginning of this summer holiday – during the long days of Ramadan when time was certainly not flying by – I began to compile a long list of places that I want to go to during the months that I am at home. Despite being from London, most of my childhood experiences of London were through a lens not dissimilar to that of a tourist; on one hand London was home, but on the other it was an exciting place yet to be properly explored, understood and conquered. Since moving back to London, this perception shifted comfortingly towards the former and unfortunately away from the latter. However, London remains to be a city full of attractions, museums and places to explore and this summer I aim to venture into the city that I have become increasingly attached to over the past few years…

Yesterday, Grace and I went to the ‘Old Operating Theatre’, which is one of the many lesser known museums on my list. The very small museum, which is set up in the attic of an 18th century Church, is home to the oldest surviving operating theatre in Europe, dating back to 1822. Having braved the long spiral staircase to the top, Grace and I were ready to explore the museum. The museum consisted of several displays, including cases of old surgical tools and a “Cabinet of Curiosities: Animals in Medicine”. There were also innumerable herbs on display, as this attic was the site of an old apothecary. After exploring the displays in museum, we went up the stairs to view the operating theatre itself. Despite being small, the museum was very interesting, especially as it is not one of the more common museums that one immediately thinks of when they think of London.

After leaving the Old Operating Theatre, we took a short (although not as short as Grace claimed it would be) walk to the Tate Modern. In converse, this gallery is certainly not lesser known, nor new to me, as I have been there many times. However, it was an enjoyable experience nonetheless. Whilst I would perhaps hesitate to describe myself as a modern art aficionado, or actually even a fan, I did like a number of the pieces, in particular the pieces with historical context and the photography series. What’s more, I definitely enjoyed watching Grace’s undisguisable lack of amusement at many of the pieces! A particular mention has to be given to an art installation made entirely of human hair; this is certainly not because it was my favourite but in fact quite the opposite – as a concept it was traumatic enough, let alone as something I have actually had the displeasure of seeing.

The day commenced with an obligatory trip to Pizza Express, which, no matter how much we complain about it, always ends up being the go-to restaurant. Over all, it was lovely to explore a new museum and learn about the history of a place of which I had previously been unaware.

One place ticked off the London summer bucket list!  

Arts

“The Bell Jar hung, suspended a few feet above my head.”

“…I was open to the circulating air.”

On an appropriately dull and dreary day of early June, I turned off the reality tv show that I had been embarrassingly engrossed in all morning and finally settled down with my copy of The Bell Jar, a book that I have been intending to read for at least the last four years. Here are my thoughts on it, full of innumerable spoilers – so keep reading at your own discretion.

I must admit, for the first half of the book, my dominant emotion was the feeling of being spectacularly underwhelmed. Whilst I am certainly not denying that I was enjoying the book, I certainly struggled to understand how it gained such high praise. To me, the narrative of Esther’s summer in New York, the account of fancy dinners with the magazine editor and of her exciting friend and the predictable entourage of boys that followed suit seemed just that: predictable. For me, the premise of The Bell Jar was no more captivating than many other American novels and seemed almost generic in style; remnant of both those regarded as classics, such as Breakfast of Tiffany’s and, likewise, not too dissimilar to Gossip Girl and other modern works, which are certainly not renowned for their literary brilliance. To be frank, the much quoted “I was supposed to be having the time of my life” summed up how I felt towards the first half of The Bell Jar quite nicely.

That said, the second half of my book did raise my opinion of the much loved book. The exploration of Esther’s descent into increasingly deeper depression was portrayed subtly and skilfully, and her experiences with various doctors and hospitals could not help but captivate any reader, even those, like me, that had been skeptical originally. Further, the suicide of not Esther but Joan was something that I particularly appreciated as a plot devise as, although Joan was quite a minor character, it was not the death that we had been expecting, thus adding a sadder, more poignant layer to the story as a whole.

As a reader, I found myself hooked towards the end of the book in the way that I had perhaps not been at the beginning. Whilst I am still unsure on whether I would rate The Bell Jar quite as highly as some of the reviews I have seen, I would certainly say that it was a book that left a lingering note of sadness, which was, indeed, the beauty of the novel and Plath’s writing.